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Cowboys offense and defense fails after fast start

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The Sports Xchange

IRVING, Tex. — In the first game without both quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys were exposed offensively in a 39-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

But it was the defense that was the biggest reason the Cowboys squandered three 14-point leads and were outscored 25-0 to end the game.

The Cowboys gave up 438 yards to the Falcons as they couldn’t stop the run or the pass and couldn’t get off the field.

Quarterback Matt Ryan looked a bit like Aaron Rodgers in the second half on Sunday as the Cowboys failed to get any pressure on him and he picked them apart. The Cowboys have been unable to mount a pass rush all season. They have three sacks in three games. They played Sunday without their three best pass rushers: Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and Jeremy Mincey. Only Mincey will return for this week’s game against the Saints.

The lack of a pass rush helped expose the secondary on Sunday as wide receiver Julio Jones had his way with 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Jones was simply a mismatch for cornerbacks Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and slot corner Tyler Patmon.

The Cowboys were also gashed for 141 yards and three touchdowns on the ground by backup running back Devonta Freeman.

It was the first loss of the season for the Cowboys (2-1), while continuing a trend of futility for Brandon Weeden and Romo’s backups. Weeden has lost nine consecutive games as a starter, dating back to 2012 when he was a rookie with the Cleveland Browns. He is now 0-2 with the Cowboys, including a loss to the Arizona Cardinals last season.

The Cowboys are 6-10 without Romo since he became the starter in 2006.

“There are no excuses guys,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “There’s no excuse about who’s there and who wasn’t there. We didn’t get the job done as a football team. The guys that dressed are the guys that we are playing with. They did a better job of winning than we did. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror.”

For the game, Weeden completed 22 of 26 passes for 232 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. But the biggest issue was not being able to get any passes to the wide receivers.

The inability to loosen up the defense outside allowed the Falcons to shut down a running game that was seemingly on record pace in the first half. The Cowboys rushed for 131 yards and four touchdowns in the first two quarters, including 10 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns for Joseph Randle. Darren McFadden added five carries for 34 yards and a touchdown.

There was no room to run in the second half. Randle, who had 85 yards after his first three carries of 28, 37 and 20 yards, didn’t break 100 yards for the game. He finished with just 87 yards on 14 carries, gaining just two yards on his final 11 carries.

Weeden only threw two passes down field; everything else was underneath. The Cowboys didn’t win on the outside and Weeden didn’t attack the defense by challenging it downfield. It will be an issue going forward.

“The antidote is to back them off,” owner Jerry Jones Jones said. “We knew how to back them off. We didn’t get the plays made that we needed to make.”

The Cowboys are deeper than they’ve been in a while and they pride themselves on the next-man-up philosophy. However, those players are starters for a reason and the reality is the Cowboys aren’t as good without them. Considering Romo is out for at least six more games, the struggle to keep their season afloat until he returns Nov. 22 becomes even more critical.

“Worried? No. Not at all. I wish we had all our players, but that’s dreaming,” Jones said. “I’m not worried. We just have a lot of work to do to stay in the hunt. I’m not at all concerned about these guys handling this psychologically. All we missed here was a chance to really get on a mountain top with a win that would have helped us numbers wise. We just have to get what we expect. It’s a tough road.”

The Cowboys play at the New Orleans Saints (0-3) next Sunday before returning home for an Oct. 11 matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, who are undefeated at 3-0 and will be coming off a bye.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus. Brandon Weeden was efficient in completing 22 of 26 passes for 232 yards and an interception. But he did not play winning football. His first-half interception was devastating. He missed a big throw to TE Jason Witten. Weeden completed a lot of passes because everything he threw was underneath. He threw only two passes more than 15 yards down field in the air the entire game. There were opportunities for him to get the ball to the outside receivers but Weeden continually chose to check the ball down. The receivers have to do a better job winning on the outside but Weeden can’t play not to lose.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. The Cowboys rushed for 131 yards in the first half and minus-4 yards afterward in the second half. Joseph Randle had a career game on the ground, but the Cowboys couldn’t close it out with the ground game because the offensive line gave up penetration.

–PASS DEFENSE: F. The Cowboys had chances to make this a tough game for Matt Ryan, but Morris Claiborne and Kyle Wilber both dropped early interceptions. Ryan completed 24 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Julio Jones was thrown to 20 times and caught 12 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Nine of the catches came in the second half when the Cowboys had no answer for Jones in the slot.

–RUN DEFENSE: F. Devonta Freeman, a backup running back, rushed 30 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys didn’t have good run fits. They didn’t tackle well and were beat up on the ground. Atlanta was more physical.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Chris Jones averaged 39.8 yards on four punts. He downed three inside the 20. The return game remains mediocre at best with Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley not getting much done.

–COACHING: D. The Cowboys didn’t adjust in the second half. They didn’t call a timeout when they had 10 men on the field on a two-point conversion. They didn’t have an effective game plan for Julio Jones.


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